Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wordstock:Poets in the Wilderness by Curtis X. Meyer

My first guest blogger.  Curtis X. Meyer wrote this review of Wordstock. 

Learn more about Curtis at:
First things first – I entered Wordstock miserable, on account of horrendous directions given out by Mapquest. While my information did mention dirt roads, it also said the journey would take no more than an hour and 15 minutes. Yeah, about that. I left my house in Winter Park, Florida around 8:30AM, and definitely arrived on the premises slightly past 11AM. When I finally found the dirt road I was supposed to turn on off the highway, it was marked by a series of plywood signs with the word “FESTIVAL” in all caps, pointing in the direction of what I could assume was the only, if not, at least most important festival event in town.

When I followed the last sign through the gates circling the property, I only knew I had arrived at the proper location because I recognized the familiar faces of some poets I knew, manning the front. I half-expected to be greeted by the theme music from Jurassic Park.

And grouchy though I was after my three-hour tour, I have to say, the spot chosen to host Wordstock was capital–G Gorgeous: A lush, green valley overlooked by a boathouse into an algae-thick lake; two stages for acoustic and spoken word performers; a pair of fire pits ready for drum circles by night; booths where vendors sold jewelry and told fortunes; an outside kitchen that served fruits, danish, granola bars, and lunch-wrap sandwiches by donation -- it looked like a camp for poets. Which is to say, for this poet, it was pretty much Valhalla.

Now, as happy as I was to be back on solid ground, my gelled hair, khakis, and GQ sunglasses made me feel a tad overdressed in the company of so many jeans and t-shirts. It certainly didn’t help that black button shirt was helping to melt me into a pile of wax beneath the Florida sun. Still, the shade, complimentary bottled water, and abundance of smiles provided by the staff were quick to make me feel at home.

But then, someone tells me I’m hosting a writing workshop at 1PM.


Apparently they know something I don’t.

It is now 11:30AM. Thankfully, I have my notebooks in my car to pull something quickly out of the ether, but I have only an hour-and-a-half to do it. While there was talk of me hosting a workshop before today, I definitely received no email, phone call, et cetera telling me I have officially been appointed such duties. No worries. I’ll wing it.

I spend the next 120 minutes putting together slips for my prompt. Typically, I write the names of various poetry forms – sonnet, sestina, ballad, pantoum, limerick, ghazal, et cetera – on slips of paper and put those slip in a sandwich bag. Then, I get those in my workshop to write down three to five ideas or things they think would be interesting topics for poems on slips of their own paper, and have them put these slips in a second sandwich bag. At the end of my lesson, I have everyone pick three slips from each, effectively choosing prompts for one another. “Ghazal” and “cupcakes” becomes a challenge for the recipient to write a ghazal about, in the voice of, or featuring cupcakes. “Sonnet” and “muscle cars” is meant to likewise inspire a similar poem, and so on and so forth.

I frantically cut slips with the names of poem forms from the pages of my notebook as The 1,000 Poets For Change open mic takes place onstage within earshot. In the absence of sandwich bags, I substitute with two plastic grocery bags from Wal*Greens I was fortunate to have in my car. No sooner do I finish my last page of slips, cut with a pair of scissors I was also lucky enough to have in my vehicle, than I hear that the workshop is about to go on – and be hosted by Elaine Person.

Elaine is a good friend, and a fine poet. But after hitting the ground running, and rushing to get a writing prompt together, I am more than a little curious as to what the plan is.

Elaine and I agree to host the workshop together. I begin by having everyone contribute five poetry topics to the empty bag. Elaine hosts her portion of the workshop, inspiring our peers to write rough poems inspired by a series of old t-shirts she has brought with her. I follow up with a brief lesson on elocution and the presentation of poetry as a live art-form. The conversation is lively, full of raised hands and enthusiastic questions. I wrap up with everyone picking three prompts and poetry forms from each bags, hoping everyone goes home with concepts for poems stewing their creative juices.

And then the slam. Friend and fellow Orlando poet Tod Caviness.  According to the flyer/brochure and online information for Wordstock, two slams are scheduled, one for “Spoken Word” at 4PM and another for “Traditional Coffeehouse Style” at 7PM. No one, self included, knows what the difference is. (And I’ve been performing in poetry slams and open mics for almost a decade.)

twenty poets sign up for the first slam, with 12 to move on to the second round, and 5 in the final round. Deep in my brain, I think this is murder. A typical slam held at a pub or coffeehouse, should be capped at 12 poets, so as not to incur the wrath of the venue staff, who no doubt would want to clean up the spot and go home. I have no idea if we started on time, but when I looked at my cell phone to see the time, it was 6:30PM and the first round was only halfway through. Keep in mind, the second slam was to start at 7pm.

In the end, Maxine Hamilton, after beating me in the first round, took 3rd place overall, beneath myself and Peter Gordan, in 1st and 2nd place, respectively. The second slam, and a slam finals that was to occur the next morning never took place, though everyone got to see one monumental show, featuring many poets who had never graced the stage before in a competitive format. I for one, was lucky enough to be exposed to poets I had been previously unfamiliar with including Peter and Maxine, managing in the process to make not only new friends, but find new poetic influences practically in my own backyard.

And while The 1st Annual Wordstock Festival proved to be a bumpy ride, between walking away $100 richer and ending my night with a stellar bowl of chili and cornbread from the kitchen, as I watched the sun go down, I could not help but think it could only get bigger and better.

Perhaps next year more locals could be persuaded to come out, and guest poets from out-of-town could present feature sets and workshops in addition to a pair of (shorter) slams. Maybe, even a head-to-head haiku battle. Whatever lies on the horizon for Wordstock, this event proved only the beginning of things to come.